Film #290: Head On (1998)

director: Ana Kokkinos
language: English and Greek
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 3 May 2017

I think I just found reference to this movie on Tumblr or something, and decided to try and watch it, as usual not really knowing much before going into it.

It’s about a gay guy (Ari) in the Greek immigrant community in Australia. They faced, and as far as I know, still face a lot of racism, and the movie tackles that for a lot of its runtime. The rest is Ari’s search for happiness, which (spoilers) he never quite finds.

A lot of it – and it might just be the period – reminds me of Trainspotting, at least things like Walkmans and the 90s music, but also the copious amounts of drugs that are being consumed in almost every scene. A lot of marijuana, but also cocaine and heroin at some points. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s as well-made as Trainspotting.

I liked the movie’s realism. It has realistic-sounding bilingual dialogue, with a lot of the characters randomly switching from one language to the other. It doesn’t shy away from showing disturbing things, such as the guy and his transgender friend being abused in jail by a pair of cops. One of them is also Greek, who has to up the ante a bit to kind of show off to his buddy that he’s willing to dole out the abuse too.

The gay encounters in the movie are all ultimately unfulfilling to the main character – they’re either violent or he gets robbed. Ari also tries it on with a girl, but she rejects him as he obviously isn’t “into it” (although I think I had to be told this by the dialogue, as the acting wasn’t quite up to scratch). Similarly and more annoyingly, the film builds to the final encounter with this cute guy that Ari and the camera have been eyeing up for the entire movie, but he gets super angry and throws Ari out into the stairwell after sucking him off. Like he was angry at Ari for ejaculating in his mouth or something. Honestly, this was the least comprehensible part of the whole thing, and the bit that got me the most angry at the movie. I don’t see why the main character wasn’t deserved a happy ending by the end of the film. And the whole outburst came out of nowhere.

Basically, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. It has some high points, but it didn’t pull together coherently. The acting was poor, the film was dimly-lit, and tries to shock more than anything else. I can’t recall the plot in any significant detail, it felt more like a progression of not-really-related scenes. Plenty of better gay movies out there.

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TV: Please Like Me season 2 (2014)

creators: Josh Thomas & Matthew Saville
language: English and a bit of Thai
length: 10 episodes of about 25 minutes each
finished watching on: 1 May 2017
previous seasons: season 1

I can’t remember why I took such a long break from this series – there were a few months when I didn’t watch it at all, before picking it up again sometime this year. But I still get a strong impulse to watch it whenever I cook food, perhaps a habit, but perhaps also influenced by the importance of food in the series (they provide motifs for a lot of episodes and the episodes are named after food).

Basically, the series has found its feet here, but I feel it’s still far too full of cringe humour for my liking at the end of the day. Josh, the main character, is insufferable, to be honest, constantly nagging other characters for attention and validation.

I like how it deals very frankly and directly with mental illness. But it often goes from these moments straight back into something very cringeworthy for comedy’s sake, and perhaps back again, even ending one episode with the surprise suicide of a side character – I said in the review of the last season that I was annoyed that my favourite character had been killed off by the show, and this is the same. I think the tone wasn’t consistent in this area. Balance is important.

But it’s got some high points – Josh and his mum in the wilderness of Tasmania was a really nice episode, and I liked the introduction of Arnold, who as far as I know will end up with Josh in the next season.

Despite its negative points, I still identify with a lot of the characters and recognize the situations. I’ll still be continuing with the next season. Soon, perhaps!

Film #277: Bad Education (2004)

aka: La mala educación
director: Pedro Almodóvar
language: Spanish and a bit of Latin
length: 101 minutes
watched on: 24 March 2017

This was my first Almodóvar film way back when, and still my favourite. It’s probably my fourth time watching it, but the last time was a whopping nine years ago. As such, I could only have given a very simple outline of the plot before watching it. I’d forgotten exactly how the main twist turns out.

There are so many layers to this movie. It starts with a film producer reading a script given to him: the first film within the film, which follows two transgender characters trying to blackmail the Catholic priest principal of their former school. But there’s also a story within the story, as it flashes back to the characters’ childhood – their abuse by the priests, and their own sexual awakening to each other (in a cinema, which is perhaps the only known example of a film within a film within a film within a film?).

It’s many stories rolled into one, but it stays coherent, and has a strong anti-establishment message. It has a compelling mystery at the centre of it that unfolds slowly. It’s super gay, too (although I remember some of my university friends complaining that my tastes were too predictable in this regard – to which I say they had too much internalized homophobia and I hope they’ve changed). And perhaps its greatest appeal is seeing Gael Garcia Bernal in drag – but he basically plays three different characters during the movie too, a very diverse role (and not even in his native accent, apparently).

I hadn’t noticed before that when the film switches to the story within the story, the frame also shortens from the wider cinescope ratio to a smaller frame, signifying when we’re switching from one story to another. It did this similarly to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not quite to the same degree.

I also talked about stories within stories recently with Magpie Murders, and I think this film is a much higher calibre of such a story, not to diminish that book too much.

So I like this movie a lot. It still has power to shock and amuse almost ten years later, which can’t be said for many movies. How about you? What’s your favourite Almodóvar film?

Film #273: King Cobra (2016)

director: Justin Kelly
language: English
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 9 March 2017

I heard about this film late last year and was instantly intrigued – it’s about the gay porn industry, and specifically Brent Corrigan, gay porn’s poster boy for the past twelve years. It’s based on the young porn star’s life as a teenager getting into the porn industry, and then the drama that ensues.

Brent Corrigan’s name will probably be familiar to most gay readers, I think – I guess it’s funny that I don’t think any straight porn stars have the same level of fame. The real Corrigan has since branched out to real acting under his real name, Sean Paul Lockhart – he was in Judas Kiss, for example, which I watched a few years ago.

As seems to be par for the course with biopics (viz. Tickled and a few others), Lockhart has publicly denounced this film and called it exploitative and misrepresentative of the gay porn industry. No doubt, but it’s a fun interpretation of a book written about the Brent Corrigan saga.

The climax (spoilers, by the way!) deals with the eventual murder of Christian Slater’s character, the producer who’d worked with Corrigan and claimed copyright on the name Brent Corrigan, by two rival producers, James Franco’s character and his young lover – who were trying to get Corrigan to work for them. This much is apparently true, although the aftermath was rushed in the film and the real Lockhart has complained about this section in particular.

The other main point in the film is the relatively well-known fact that Lockhart was only 17 when he made his first couple of movies, making the movies illegal child pornography. The fallout from this also seems to be true-to-life.

The film is sexy, and it has a nice colour palette, with a lot of pink and red – it almost reminded me of Pink Narcissus, although that might be too high praise for it. It looks very polished, too, and I thought it was fun to watch. Christian Slater’s and James Franco’s characters are suitably creepy, although the real Lockhart has complained about this too. I noticed they were trying to really go for the mid-2000s as a period, so it was funny to see the amount of flip-phones being used, and the old-style websites. It’s funny that we’re already at the point that we can stereotype that era.

But it’s also exploitative, often treating sex as a joke, and it doesn’t know how to balance tone. James Franco is probably partly culpable here – I find his attitude towards the gay community in general to be exploitative (and there’s an argument to be made that this is his vehicle more than anyone else’s). It’s usually quite funny and playful, but will throw a character’s history of sexual abuse in your face at a moment’s notice. It’s also weird sometimes – as if to try and raise the glamour level of porn, the main characters are constantly discussing porn loudly in expensive restaurants, to the point where it got annoying and unrealistic. Don’t these people have offices?

Also, while I did enjoy the colourfulness and the set design in general, I think the director still has some way to go with editing and cinematography. I remember one long take of one particular conversation, that cut halfway through to shot-reverse shot style, and I was jolted out of watching it. I think he still hasn’t found his own style, not quite.

There’s also the issue of the ending, which is rushed. I wanted to see more of the fallout from the murder, but it was framed as the climax here. There’s also a comment from Corrigan working as a porn producer right at the end, which echoes directly a comment made by Christian Slater, suggesting he’s no better than the creep who came before him.

Basically, it has a lot of issues and it is pretty amateurish, but it was fun to watch. That’s the best way to describe it, I think.

Film #272: Pink Narcissus (1971)

director: James Bidgood
language: silent (with some radio clips)
length: 65 minutes
watched on: 8 March 2017

It’s not the first time I’ve watched this, but I saw images of it online recently, and the desire to see it again was brimming for a while. The last time I saw it was back in 2008, quite a long time. As of writing this, it’s available on Youtube, so I recommend people search it out (but be careful, it does get very explicit).

I honestly think there are few more iconic films than this one, especially gay ones. Its visual style is very distinct, and there are plenty of imitators – the artists Pierre & Gilles, for example, or Bavo Defurne’s films that I watched last year.

Nominally, there’s a plot (it’s supposed to be the fantasies of a young male prostitute, but this is rather awkwardly tacked on to the film), but it’s more of a series of erotic images played to viewers with music – with no dialogue, presumably too expensive to record at the time. Apparently it took several years to make in the director’s New York apartment, which was extravagantly dressed up for all the different scenes. And the film was originally credited to “anonymous” – and no wonder, given the time period, and how explicit it gets.

But it’s a long tease – penises don’t show up on screen until the third act or so, and the moment is built up a lot. There’s a lot of thrusting and sex acts already, including a belly dancer waving his dick around under a thin cloth covering. A thinly-veiled penis indeed. I was almost surprised when they eventually lifted the veil, as it were.

And not all the images are sexual, although that’s obviously the main focus. One of my favourites is where the film, or the screen, seems to crack, but it zooms out to show it’s actually a spider’s web.

Now obviously I like watching guys naked or in very tightly-fitting clothing that outlines their butts – and Bobby Kendall, the main actor, is super cute – but it’s the music, perfectly matching the images, and the vivid colours that make this film work. There’s just something special about it.

Films #219-226: Boys on Film X (Short film series)

bof10Watched on: 7 Aug, 10 Aug, 12 Aug 2016
Total length: 133 minutes

I ordered this DVD online after I had enjoyed another installment of this series. As I think I’ve ranted before, the selection of gay-themed stuff is a bit thin on the ground in Japan, and while this is a UK-produced series, I always get a bit disappointed when Amazon at home has a better selection of books and DVDs than the Japanese one. Anyway, this was available for import, and not too expensive, so I went for it.

Just like the other DVD, I watched it over a few days, but not consecutively. It’s easy to dip in and out like that, with these series. As with the other one, the production values of all the movies are generally high, and the cinematography is generally very ‘filmic’. But the quality of the movies varies a lot. One in particular stood out to me a lot for various reasons, and I could probably write an essay about my feelings on that one alone. I’m going to try and avoid writing too much, though.

As for overall impressions, I think the quality has gotten better compared to the last DVD I watched, and for my birthday I requested my mum to send over some more of these DVDs – which you can just buy in the store back home. Man, that kind of thing is making me homesick.

Here’s something about each film:

Watched on 7 August:
corpsperduFilm #219: Headlong (2012)
aka: Corps perdu
director: Lukas Dhont
language: French and a bit of English
length: 17 minutes

This film is about a young guy on a trip to a foreign city to compete in a dancing competition. It’s the same guy who was in North Sea, Texas, still pretty young when he made this – about 16. He’s obviously lonely, and it seems he can’t speak French to the locals (I took the city to be Brussels on account of it being a Belgian production, but it wasn’t clear – I didn’t know Brussels had a skyscraper district – and nor was it clear where the guy was supposed to be from). A guy breaks into his hotel room, running from the police. The young guy ends up following him, obviously infatuated. They go clubbing together and run around the city.

It shows the guy breaking out of his shell, which was nice, and it was a very atmospheric film. I liked the display of youth – sometimes I feel I missed out on some of the stuff like this at the age of 16. But it was pretty exploitative, about as much as you can get with an underage protagonist. He spent most of the movie with his top off, and there’s a scene when he’s alone with nothing else to do and decides to shave his dick. The ending is nicely ambiguous, though.

asfdhFilm #220: A Stable for Disabled Horses (2012)
director: Fabio Youniss
language: English and some Norwegian
length: 13 minutes

This film was about awkwardness, as far as I can tell, right from the beginning of the film. A Norwegian guy will soon leave the UK, and his British friend invites him round for a leaving party – it turns out it’s just the two of them, and the British guy wants to find a moment to confess his love. Eventually it gets too awkward for the Norwegian guy and he leaves – but at the end he comes back in a gesture of goodwill. It’s pretty low budget – obvious when your movie is shot in black-and-white.

There is comedy in this movie, but not the kind that I’m generally a fan of – it’s way too awkward. The guy in it is apparently a comedian, though, so he does pull it off well, and there is realism in there too. I felt sorry for the characters too – he sounds like he’s put up with a lot of homophobia, and so on. But in any case, this wasn’t the strongest film of the lot.

lgbcidFilm #221: Little Gay Boy, Christ Is Dead (2012)
directors: Antony Hickling & Amaury Grisel
languages: French and English
length: 30 minutes

I could tell by the thumbnail on the DVD that I probably wouldn’t like this movie, and ultimately I was right. It’s about BDSM sex and is very explicit. I could probably write a whole essay on just this one about why I don’t like it and don’t agree with its messages. I don’t think I want to write too much here, though. Suffice to say it’s inciteful and it dances along the boundary of acceptability.

It’s about a boy going around Paris doing odd jobs, but at each step along the way he’s abused by one person or another – including what seems to be his own mother. Certain words and phrases are often repeated – while abusing him, people keep calling him a faggot or some other homophobic insult. At first I thought it might be a dream, and these are his secret desires, or that he’s part of some kind of sex ring, but I think it’s just straight-up him being abused by strangers. It’s ambiguous.

It doesn’t make a lot of narrative sense – it jumps from one incident to the other, and they’re clumsily introduced. A scene where he’s abused by a black dominatrix comes out of nowhere – he literally bumps into her on the street and it cuts to him being spanked. But perhaps that means it really is a dream.

There is also a guy in body paint doing a kind of interpretive dance, and this frankly didn’t work, and was kind of annoying whenever the film cut to that. It didn’t add anything to the film. The soundtrack was a bit screechy at these points, too.

There’s also a lot of Christ imagery – the boy’s initials are J.C., and his submission to the “gods” of gay fetish sex at the end of the movie directly relates him to the famous messiah, through the imagery the film uses. I also found this kind of comparison annoying. Of course, the title includes the phrase “Christ is dead”, but it’s stylized with a cross in place of the T and lined up to read “LGBT is dead”, another point that offended me somewhat. Perhaps it’s saying that we should abandon such labels, but at the same time I felt attacked.

It’s just… the film made me feel angry. Like really angry (both directly at it, but also the homophobia depicted reminded me that my place in society can be volatile). And I think that’s exactly what it was meant to do. Does that mean it was successful?

Watched on 10 August
villageFilm #222: Boys Village (2011)
director: Till Kleinert
language: English
length: 23 minutes

This was a horror-esque film about an abandoned kids’ camp somewhere in Wales. My impression was it was due to be finally torn down, and the filmmakers got permission to film something there before it wasn’t there anymore.

The story is of a ghost boy (spoiler alert, sorry) who stalks around the camp making little dolls to amuse himself. He’s waiting for his parents to pick him up, apparently. Some teenagers come onto the camp, and the boy starts watching them, obviously infatuated. It comes to a head when he gets jealous of one of the teenagers’ girlfriend and manages to scare her off – then watches the guy masturbating. They end up in a spooky basement that even the ghost boy normally avoids. Invisible, he steals a kiss, but this causes the guy to fall back through a wall in shock and die.

It’s creepy and the atmosphere fits very well. I enjoyed it enough. A bit weird with the age of the protagonist, though – he’s only about 12.

blindersFilm #223: Blinders (2011)
director: Jacob Brown
language: English
length: 8 minutes

This extra-short film seemed more like the germ of an idea than a full movie. It depicts a boy and a girl in a club, and they both catch the eye of another boy, waifish and delicate. The blurb on the DVD cover and on IMDB awkwardly says “a creature of a boy”. Ew.

The movie flits from one scene to the next, with big time jumps, so suddenly it cuts to them naked together (there’s a lot of naked flesh and dangling genitals). I got confused by the movie as I felt like I’d missed something. As usual with these movies, the imagery was nice and it was well shot. I think I’d like this if it was longer.

teenslikephilFilm #224: Teens Like Phil (2012)
directors: Dominic Haxton & David Rosler
language: English
length: 19 minutes

This is a teen movie about guys in high school. They apparently had a fling, but one has turned homophobic against the other. It’s kind of a depressing movie and deals with things like suicide and homophobic violence, but it handles the subject matter fairly well.

I did find there were a lot of possibly magical realism elements and weirdness going on, though, with people dancing round open fires and running riot in the streets, and this didn’t sit well with me. I think it took away from the graver tone of the serious elements.

Overall basically this one didn’t stand out for me, and I found it unimpressive compared to the rest.

Watched on 12 August
inflatable-swampFilm #225: Inflatable Swamp (2010)
director: William Feroldi
language: English
length: 13 minutes

This is about a guy who has a lot of casual sex, and he apparently asks his hookups to bring a helium balloon with them – after they leave he writes a pithy summary of the hookup on the side, such as ‘6″, average sucker’. He has a bathroom full of these balloons (how he can stop the helium from leaking I’d like to know!). The balloons are pretty inconsequential, as I’ve seen this trope before with other objects, like in the movie Weekend, where the main character likes to interview his hookups on a recorder, but they seem to show that the guy shares no real attachment with his hookups.

Then there’s a new hookup, but the guy gets hypoglycaemic during sex, and the main character has to find him some chocolate cake to bring him back to life, as it were. It ends with the movie’s only line, asking what the guy’s name is (the rest is silent). Like a punchline. I got impatient with this movie – I don’t like this implicit suggestion that casual sex is emotionless or unworthy.

Also, the film’s blurb (again, it’s the same on IMDB or on the DVD cover) is completely different from the film I watched. It says “With the arrival of Luke, a new man in his life, he finds a way to reconcile pleasures of the flesh with the new aroused imperatives of the heart” – I didn’t see the slightest bit of imperatives of the heart in this movie.

Yeah-Kowalski-ss2-krkFilm #226: Yeah Kowalski! (2013)
director: Evan Roberts
language: English
length: 10 minutes

This was a nice one to end on. The movie is about middle school kids in small town America, and I’m really glad to see how far things have come, in the 12 or so years between when I was 13 and when this movie was made. I’m really glad that it’s possible to have openly gay young teenagers in the modern world, and it makes me wish I wish I hadn’t spent most of my teen years fretting over my sexuality.

The premise is that the main character is worried that he’s not hitting puberty fast enough and that he has no armpit hair. He wants to impress his crush, the obviously gay kid in the class. In a thoroughly embarrassing scene, he takes hair that his dad shaved off, and glues it to his armpits. I thought it was a dream at first, but apparently the character actually goes through with it. I just thought it was a bit ridiculous. But it captures the anxiety that a lot of us go through during our teen years quite well.

So the main conceit of the film is hard to buy, but I liked the characters’ interactions, the bright colour design of this movie, and the light-hearted tone, especially after some of the much heavier films on this DVD. I have a favourite line, said by the main characters best friend, “hoes before homos!” – I googled the phrase but it doesn’t seem to be a real thing. I vote we should make it one.

Film #216: I Want Your Love (2012)

i-want-your-lovedirector: Travis Mathews
language: English
length: 68 minutes
watched on: 28 July 2016

The box of this movie proudly proclaims that it’s “bringing gay sex back on film” – it was one of a few that I bought during one of my recent trips back to the UK in 2015, and took a shamefully long time to get around to watching. No way I could find such things here, but that’s a rant for another time, and one that I’ve already had before, indeed.

It means this quite literally, as it, like such films as Shortbus or 9 Songs before it, features explicit sex. “Is it porn?” people ask. Yes and no, I’d say. Fortunately, the BBFC seems to say “no”, and it’s on general release in the UK, rated 18 instead of R18. It was certainly produced by a porn company. It was evidently workshopped in a similar way to Shortbus, with the actors helping to shape their characters.

It’s about a guy in San Francisco who is going to leave for the sticks somewhere, perhaps his hometown in the Midwest. It follows him and his group of friends, mostly other gay males, as they explore their emotions through sex with each other.

The characters are all spot-on, in my opinion, and I could see aspects of myself in each of them. The acting is not always great, but the movie weathers the inconsistencies well.

It’s quite a claustrophobic movie – it seems to have been shot on the cheap mostly within San Francisco townhouses, and a lot of the movie and acting is in close-up. This had merits – it fostered a more intimate atmosphere, and allowed certain actors a chance to shine – but mostly I wished it would back away from the characters a bit and show the full picture more.

Mainly, to be honest, I’ll remember this movie for how rooted it is in a certain sociopolitical clime. It’s very 2012. The main character is moving back to Ohio or Indiana for economic reasons – it’s now too expensive to live in San Francisco and too difficult to find a job there. The fashion sense, too – there are a lot of ironic hipster beards, and the main character among many others is quite unkempt, with five-day old stubble and tatty clothing. Like another gay movie I watched recently, In Bloom, these things root it in the early part of this decade, post-collapse in 2009.

For some people, the explicit sex is reason enough to watch it; for others, this might be a reason to avoid it. I liked it, and certainly at only 68 minutes it’s not a big time commitment like so many modern movies. Just don’t watch it with your family.